May 9 to 20, 2017 - Elbow to Fort Qu'Appelle (SK)
The village of Elbow greatly charmed us with the generosity and kindness of its inhabitants. As mentioned in the previous post, a whole community warmly welcomed us. On Tuesday May 9, we gave a presentation to the Loreburn Central School. Rebecca and Audrey, two students, had prepared a surprise for us and Jasmine also. They had written a pretty note on the lid of a container hiding delicious cookies. Thank you Rebecca and Audrey !!! At this school, we also met, for the first time, Cowboys. True Cowboys! One of them is the champion in his category for different roping competitions.
On May 10, we left Elbow under a bright sun and a gentle south wind. We said goodbye and thanks to Bryan and Donna, instigators of this chain of generosity. We then paddled up to the Qu'Appelle Dam, located at the southeast end of Lake Diefenbaker. We landed on a sandy beach and we were able to carry all our equipment above the dam. Then we put the wheels under the canoe and walked until we could find a place where we would put the canoe back into the water on the Qu'Appelle River. We made camp at this place.
People often ask us if we worry about never knowing where we are going to sleep or camp. To us, this is part of the adventure. We don’t see uncertainty as a source of stress, but rather as a source of motivation. There is something exciting to discover every day a new place to pitch the tent. Sometimes the site is really beautiful, sometimes it's the opposite. But in any case, once the tent is up, we are home. Our view changes every day. The odours change, the sounds change, and the colours change.
The Qu'Appelle River has it's source in Diefenbaker Lake (supplied by the South Saskatchewan River) and ends at the intersection of the Assiniboine River in Manitoba. This river is extremely winding. Few are the straight stretches and when there are some, they are not long. Search on Google map for this river and follow it. You will understand what we mean by "extremely winding". We do not know if the water level is relatively the same from year to year at this time of year, but we often touched the bottom. There is a lot of erosion. Debris in the river was plentiful during our passage. We had to constantly make corrections and turn the canoe in a different direction to avoid collisions.
The Qu'Appelle River mainly crosses farmer's fields and cattle ranch lands up to Buffalo Pond Lake. In some places we had to be careful, as barbed wire crosses the river. We saw an impressive number of cows and calves. What impressed us the most, however, was the diversity and abundance of animals and birds. Owls, falcons, various species of ducks, geese, kingfishers, avocets, teals, swallows, plovers, deer, coyotes, a moose, beavers, muskrats, badger, minks, raccoons, etc. Unfortunately, it is rather difficult to take pictures before Jasmine starts barking. So the majority of our wildlife encounters will only remain in our memories.
Buffalo Pond is a stretch of water that is part of the Qu'Appelle River system. We had to do another portage at the dam located downstream. This lake is inhabited and seems to be a place where people come to spend the summer holidays. The water changed drastically once on the lake. It became clearer and less silty. It's banks are more accessible because there is sand and gravel. The Qu'appelle River is very muddy. The Buffalo Pond supplies water to the cities of Regina and Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan.
From Buffalo Pond, we found the river narrow, with curves and zigzags. That day, we were supposed to take a "day off", that is to say we planned to paddle the remaining five kilometres to Buffalo Pond Dam and do the portage. That was the plan. But, once on the other side of the dam, we did not find the site very attractive, so we figured we could paddle a little further in the afternoon and find another location. Turned out we had to go over eleven beaver dams. We finished at 7:00 pm and had to improvise camp. We hauled our gear and canoe to the top of a steep hill where we finally found a wheat field (cut from last year). As darkness settled, coyotes, raccoons and deer came into the farmer's field.
The following days, we crossed more beaver dams, just like other mini-rapids that we had to do by line because of the lack of water. Near Lumsden, where we stopped briefly to buy bread and refuel on drinking water, we had to get through a jumble of debris. We could not bypass the artificial barrier by portaging, so we had to force our way through.
At Craven, we made another portage over a dam. The river was still very shallow. Subsequently, and unfortunately for us, we had multiple sightings of dead animals. We saw six pelicans that had died in different places, fish and a coyote. We saw the bones of a deer and a moose. It is sad, a bit disgusting, but natural. Then there were cow and horse carcasses on the banks and in the river. The smell made me sick to my stomach. Too bad, because this section is part of the Trans Canada Trail. Several trail signs are visible and affixed to bridges and/or fences. A proper cleaning of the river would be necessary.
Before arriving at Lake Pasqua, we crossed a reserve on which we saw superb horses. Curious, they followed us for a moment before they all stopped, as a group, and watched us leave far away.
At the end of Lac Pasqua, there is the village of Fort Qu'Appelle, where we arrived on May 19 in the early afternoon. This village hosted a trading post for the Hudson's Bay Company. It was established in 1852 and is where the village eventually developed. Previously, it was the North West Company that reigned over this river. The company had set up a trading post at Fort Espérance in 1787, located further downstream. The post was abandoned in 1819.
The name Qu'Appelle comes from a Cree legend. A spirit travelled up and down the river. A native man told Daniel Harmon of the North West Company, in 1804, that he often heard a man's voice saying "Kâ-têpwêt?". Meaning "Who's calling?" or “Qui appelle?” in French.
We will stay at the Fort Qu'Appelle campground until Monday morning, May 22, and then we will continue our journey. We have some washing to do, errands and writing :) It is possible that the next post for the blog will be done in Winnipeg. We wish you all a good and very nice long weekend!